Seeds of Change: Artist and Arnolfini create A Floating Ballast Seed Garden in Bristol

By Emily Beeson | 02 May 2013

Event preview: Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden, Arnolfini, Bristol, until June 23 2013

Picture of a summer garden
© Max McClure
This ongoing investigation by Maria Thereza Alves into ballast flora in the port cities of Europe has birthed a new botanical landmark in Bristol.

Situated in the city’s famed harbour side, the floating garden conceptualised by German designer Gitta Gschwendtner, references the maritime past of the city and its historic roster of international trade.

Alves discovered that ballast seeds, capable of lying dormant for hundreds of years, could be cultivated and grown into exotic and thriving species of plant.

Between 1680 and the early 1900’s, ships’ ballast - gravel, sand, stones and earth - was used to weigh down and balance trade vessels with light cargos. The ballast contained scree and matter from foreign shores, including seeds from plants not native to Britain.

Working closely with the city's Arnolfini art gallery and with the specialist input of Nick Wray and Lucy Empson, from the University of Bristol Botanical Garden and City Council, Alves has transformed a derelict concrete barge owned by the Bristol Harbour Authority into a striking and sustainable example of the city’s quayside history.

By germinating ballast seeds salvaged from riverbed excavations around the Floating Harbour and River Avon, Alves has created a modern floating seed garden of beautiful and unfamiliar flora.

Its design offers onlookers a visually dynamic experience, a multi-perspective view of a contemplative, architectural space, steeped in history.

Alves, a Brazilian artist living in Europe, says the project was intended to “re-establish the histories of complexities of ballast flora and the potential of individual histories that these plants were witness to, previously isolated from their intimate connection to the economic and social history of Bristol.”

Her research centres on cultural experiences, which lead people to question their identity and knowledge of their origins.

Initiated in summer 2012, the botanical garden will be re-planted annually with non-native species and play host to boat tours and a series of events in association with the Arnolfini from April to June.

Visit Seeds of Change online for details of events. Open 11am-6pm (closed Monday except Bank Holiday). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @Arnolfiniarts.

More pictures:

A photo of some of the ballast seed species
© Max McClure, 2012
A photo of the floating garden's sustainable pine walkway
© Max McClure, 2012
A photo of the floating ballast seed garden
© Max McClure, 2012
A view across the floating garden
© Max McClure, 2012
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